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tv   KQED Newsroom  PBS  August 29, 2015 2:00am-2:31am PDT

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hello, i'm scott shafer. welcome to kqed newsroom. >> i'm thuy vu. the waters off the monterey are home to otters, seals, sea lions and whales among other creatures. next week,s. they'll be feature in big blue live, a television special spanning three nights here on kqed. pbs and the bbc are procing the special airing live at 8:00 monday. big blue live will focus on the comeback of monterey bay where decades ago dozens of species of sea life were on the verge of extinction. >> although many of the species are thriving, ocean waters throughout the world are facing a new threat.
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coral reefs like these, vibrant and teeming with life, may hold clues to the future of the world's oceans. >> coral reefs only make up a fraction of 1% of the ocean, but they hold 25% of the ocean's species. not only that, but they feed hundreds of millions of people and a billion people or more get some income from coral reefs. so this is an ecosystem that is really fundamental to humans on the planet. >> steve polumbi is the director of the hopkins marine station. he's studied coral reefs around the world. for decades, warming ocean waters have damaged, even killed coral, but now reefs are facing an insidious threat from a chemical change that is making ocean water nomore acid ick. >> ocean acid fiction affects
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the entire globe's oceans and affects organism's growth rate and making it more difficult to make shells. we know that fish actually react to dangers differently. >> with ocean surface waters now 30% more acidic than they were two centuries ago, protecting the reefs from acid fiction is no easy task. >> it's not a problem you can just turn around very quickly. it's a problem that, once it gets really bad enough so that it's having incredible global effect, there's nothing you can do about it. you have to stop it before that point. >> the increase in acidity is largely the result of people burning coal, oil, and other fossil fuels. that pumps massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which then sinks into the ocean waters at a rate of 9 billion tons per year. the carbon dioxide robs the oceans of an essential element that corals and other animals need to thrive. >> corals make skeletons.
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that's the white part of a coral reef. and the skeletons are made of calcium carbonate. that tends to dissolve if the acid level in water gets too high. >> this model shows how the ocean chemistry has changed since 1885 and how it is expected to change over the next 80 years. the blue represents ocean conditions good for shell and coral growth. the orange represents conditions that make it difficult for many animals to grow shells or skeletons. >> there's a few of them right here. most of them might be deeper. >> jim berry is a senior scientist at the monterey bay aquarium research institute. he's looking at the effects of ocean acidfication on a variety of sea life including deep sea coral. >> the ocean critters out here are faced with a faster and larger change in ocean chemistry than they've seen for 30 to maybe 300 million years. through much of their history.
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>> berry says if one species suffers an entire food web can suffer. >> we could just measure the moat ilt rate. >> berry and charles balk are studying how oceans acid fiction affects abalony, whether it interferes with the shell fis reproducing. inside a lab, female abalonies are induced to spawn. each releases streams of small green eggs through its respiratory holes. an abalony can spawn tens of thousands of eggs tt a time. in one tank are the females, in another the males. >> what you're seeing are puffs of clo d, white stream that's are the sperm being released. >> bach and berry are putting the eggs and sperm together in water with varying levels of acidity to examine how it affects fertilization. >> what we sawwe in the last experiment where fertilization was lower in low ph, maybe it's because the sperm aren't swimming as fast. >> their research suggests that
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ocean acidfiction reduces the abalony fertilization rate. they're an important source of food for sea otters who help keep kelp forests in balance. >> we know acid fiction of the ocean is huge. this swun of the biggest things that happened to this earth in the last many tens of millions of years. it's a huge environmental change happening right in front of us. >> terry sawyer runs hog island, an oyster farm 30 miles north of san francisco. >> and this is a big pacific oyster. this is how big they will get. >> sawyer says ocean acidfication is already affecting his business. >> it's scary. >> the wake-up call for him came in 2005. that's when there were massive dieoffs at oyster farms algz the oregon and washington, d.c. coasts. those farms supplied farmers with the seeds and larvae they needed to grow oysters. >> the larvae was completely
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dying, and their seed was completely dying. there's not a way to run a business. >> sawyer says he's concerned not only for his business but for all the animals who live in or depend on the oceans. >> feels like we're in the position being the canary and the coal mine. the thing is, i'm holding the canary. i've got a responsibility to say, well, all right, we have symptoms here that animal just died. what are we going to do now? >> sawyer and researchers from the university of california at davis are now monitoring the water quality in realtime. >> purple line is ph. >> the data helps sawyer and other oyster farmers in the area adjust planting schedules to prepare for changing conditions, hog island is building its own hatchery. but sawyer knows if conditions become untenable he can always move. >> but that's the last thing i would want to do. >> a large oyster hatchery has already moved to hawaii leaving
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the more caustic waters of the pacific northwest. >> it's great for that hatchery, but what does it mean for all the animals who are already living there? they can't move. >> jim berry fears it may already be too late to save coral reefs. he points out that ur of the last five big extinctions on earth included ocean acidfication. >> are we going to see a mass extinction of things in the ocean? boy, i hope not. no matter what we do, we don't -- we're not going to see a recovery from it for a very long period of time. so it's going to be millions of years. >> the creatures that live under the ocean are some of the most magical creatures you can ever see. and every single one of them just seems like a stunning and unexpected success. i can't accept if my kids can't see that or my grandkids. >> scientists say it is unclear if ocean acidification has
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reached a tipping point. >> some people think we may be 80 years from there. now is probably the last generation where we can actually change the trajectory. i really hate to be able to only tell my grandchildren about it and not show it to them. i would hate if this is the last generation that the magical oceans exist. >> and joining us now to discuss the health of the oceans and the lessons to be learned from monterey bay are paul rogers, managing editor of kqed science unit and environment writer for the "san jose mercury news," dr. emily ra ves, marine laboratory, and paul michelle, superintendent of the monterey bay national marine sanctuary. thank you all for being here. emily, let's begin with you. what can be done about ocean acidification. >> we want to get at the cause
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of it, we need to reduce or ultimately eliminate our emissions of carbon dioxide. carbon dioxide is what dissolves into the surface waters of the ocean and causes the chemical changes that we're seeing. but there's a lot more than that. the carbon dioxide problem in the atmosphere is a global problem, but for communities, local communities, like those in monterey bay, like those in ta mauls bay we saw with the hog island oyster company in the package, they want to -- they care about the local marine ecosystem to them and what can they do about it? they can't necessarily control the carbon dioxide emissions of the entire planet. but we can think about the health of these local systems like the immune system of the human body. now we're entering into the fall. we're entering into the flu season. and we might want to start taking vitamins, sleeping
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better, all these things we can do to bolster the resilience of our own health. so in case we get exposed to the flu virus, the consequences of that will be minimized. >> what can animals in the ocean do to kind of bng more resilient. >> what we can do to buffer the health of our local marine ecosystems is we can reduce local sources of stress for these animals. we can reduce overfishing, reduce nutrient pollution, reduce human-caused damage related to tourism. for example, in the coral reef example, humans stepping on corals, touching corals, stuff like that. and in that way we can really try to maximize, buffer the health of these systems. >> paul michelle, getting into monterey bay, what are the challenges facing monterey bay? we know it's had an amazing recovery. what are the challenges it's facing now still? >> ocean acidification is a big one. like the video said, there's a
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delayed response. the impacts we're seeing today are actually from pollution 30 years ago. even if we stopped carbon emissions today, we're going to see this lag effect. that's a big problemme. locally we have serious issues with water quality in certain areas, shipping and fishing gear impact to marine mammals especially whales. big cargo ships that transit the area occasionally and unintentionally hit whales. we've had about ten whales struck and killed in the last 15 years in the sanctuary. we've got numerous entanglements in fishing gear from whales. 100 whales have been entangled in the last 15 years as well. these are issues we're trying to tackle that are big problems that require responses from a lot of different agencies and stakeholders. >> paul rogers, in many ways this is a success story, what's monterey bay. i'm wondering, what are the lessons? what are we learning from what has happened since this national marine sanctuary was declared?
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it's been very positive. what are the take-aways? >> so many environmental stories are negative, right? you pick up the newspaper, turn on the tv, it seems like the sky is always falling. and wuns of the things about the central coast and i think this is the reason that we're seeing an international tv event from bbc and pbs focusing on this place is that it is such a big success story. basically, if you look at where we were decades ago, it's amazing. i mean, in the 1800s and right up to 1971, there was whale hunting off the central coast. i mine, there was a whaling station in richmond that killed whales to make dog food. that was in 1971. >> not to mention cannery row as well. >> that's another thing, overfishing all through the '30s and '40s, 20 giant stinking canneries that steinbeck made famous. we hunted the sea otters and sea lions to the last few dozen. we thought the sea otters were extinct until 135030 rz.
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standard oil company wanted to build a refinery where the monterey bay research institute is now. it was narrowly defeated in 1965. and we had president reagan and his interior secretary james watt trying to put offshore oil rigs off the big sur and san mateo coast. so to see this marvelously protected marine area with a lot of the wildlife coming back, the gray whales delisted, humpback whales coming off the list. pelicans are back. it shows what is possible when you have federal government, state government and local activi activism. you can save these places. >> how long did it take before we started seeing reversals std decline in species? >> a lot of it started right after the early '70 dz. first it was federal laws rg the marine protection law, the endangered species act, marine sanctuary act. a lot of federal policies actually put in place by president nixon who it turns out was one of the most environmental presidents in american history.
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so those kind of things started the ball rolling. then state and local efforts. and when president bush sr. who was trying to win california in the 1992 election created much larger boundaries for the sanctuary, basically from the golden gate bridge to hearst castle, larger than locals expected at the time, that put in place folks like paul and his staff who are able to monitor. we've seen expansion of scientific research, more than 20 scientific facilities around the bay, 2,000 scientists, 200 million-plus in payroll. we have learned in monterey bay that you can make more money studying whales than hunting whales. >> emily and paul, michelle, how much of what paul rogers has discussed also has to do with location, the location of where this wonderful, beautiful bay is located? because you've got world-class research institutions here. you've got a fair number of supporters in silicon valley. in fact, david packard co-founder of hewlett-packard
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funded largely montry b rerey b aquari aquarium. >> there's never been a better time for marine scientists and ocean educators. there's so much more attention on the ocean and the bay. you know, we talk to ocean scientists and filmmakers from all over the world that travel to incredible places, and more often than not they say, gosh, i wish i'd have been here 50 to 100 years ago to see what this place looked like. that's not the case in monterey. they come here because it has rebounded so remarkably. like paul said, it's due to the state and federal and local regulations, stakeholders, scientist that's have come together to make this a really special place. >> yet we're still seeing acidifcation. ocean temperatures are rising. i'm wondering, in spite of this great news, what are some of the stresses that are still being felt by the animals that are in this part of the coast? >> certainly with ocean acidification it doesn't discriminate it's going to affect all of this rich,
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productive marine life that is in monterey bay. and one of the unique things about monterey bay, one of the reasons why it's so special and so productive, is that it's an area with really strong upwelling, this event that happens in the ocean during the summer where deep nutrient-rich more acidic ocean water comes up into the shallow coastal region, and it produces this vibrant productive ecosystem that's so special. that's why all of these whales and marine mammals and feeders come to that area. but as a result of that, because of this upwelg welling, this area also is exposed to more acidic conditions naturally. that makes it a really unique opportunity to study what the effects of ocean acidification might be because we're already seeing the more acidic waters there. >> what species are faring well? which ones are particularly struggling with acidifcation and
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can the fish alter their chemistry to accommodate the changing seas? >> that's a really great question. as i mentioned, ocean acidification doesn't zrimt nate, but certainly there are certain animals that can better cope with changing chemistry than others. the really vulnerable animals are the ones like abalony, like oysters, mussels, also really tiny creatures that live in the surface waters themselves like tara pods, really small swimming marine snails, that don't have as much of an ability to regulate their own body conditions and protect their own calcification, for example, against the effects of ocean acidification. the effects on those animals are going to have consequences for these very charismatic marine mammals featured in "big blue live" like the sea lions,
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dolphins, the whales because they're part of the food web. they're really important prey species for a lot of these larger animals. >> and are they able to adapt at all? >> we are trying to see if that's possible. the chemistry of the ocean is changing extremely quickly, and that might outpace the capacity for these species to adapt to those conditions. but a lot of the work that we're involved with and also steve polimbi who was featured in the video is trying to look at whether some of these marine invertebrates like sea ur chans will be able to adapt. >> paul, the president earlier this year expanded the boundaries of the monterey bay marine sanctuary that president clinton put in place. it seems to be working really well. so why don't we just declare all of the ocean off the coast of the united states a sanctuary? why not do that? >> well, why not? sanctuaries actually are about good governance. we don't, for example, directly regulate fishing, but we work
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with the fishing industry. we work with councils to address issues that do come up. and really what we do is try to bring people together to solve the problems. that is our role. it's our role also to study and to share with the public these amazing places. so i don't see why not. >> how does the sanctuary work? >> i'll tell you why not. because the oil industry wants to drill it for oil off a lot of these places. in southern california, we have had oil drilling for more than 100 years, right? when you put in place a national marine sanctuary, it bans oil drilling forever. obama, as you mentioned, through administrative actions expanded the two sanctuaries to the north of monterey, the gulf of the fairlawns and the cordle bank saingt other. he extended them about 50 miles up to basically the mendocino county line. that's something environmentalists have been fighting for since the 1970s. you know, we've had a republican congresses who have blocked attempts and who actually have
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tried to get more oil drilling. you remember drill baby drill. it wasn't that long ago that the '08 palin ticket was arguing that. so there are billions of dollars in resources that people want to extract off of these places. it's just like national parks. when you protect something, you're limiting other things. >> other than oil and gas, are there so to speak losers when you declare a marine sanctuary? >> i'll argue a little bit with paul on this because in the gulf of mexico there's no place that's more drilled for oil there. we have two marine sanctuaries at either end of the gulf. right now, there's a slight nomination process that's going on naturally where communities across the country are nominating their special place for consideration for one day becoming a marine sanctuary. we're seeing a lot of interest in the gulf of mexico. so we might be able to get to a place where we can have both coexist. >> what does john boehner think about that? >> paul is shaking -- the two pauls are going at it.
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>> i mean, i think what's amazing about monterey is that up until monterey it was common in california for politicians to push for more offshore drill, right? we've had gubernatorial candidates like dan lundgren pushing for more drilling. basically, it has since become the third rail of california environmental politics. nobody argues anymore for more offshore drilling. it's something where you had this political coalition of tourism leaders, fishing leaders, enviros, silicon valley types. basically, there aren't enough people on the other side. when you're talking about texas and louisiana where the oil industry has a lot more power, it's a different equation. >> this is really a bails ick question. but what does the sanctuary do? what does it prohibit? what does it limit, restrict? >> so we deal with all those things that aren't fisheries related. we deal with discharges to disturbing the sea floor. you cannot disturb the sea floor, the laying of cable or infrastructure or mining
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activities do not occur in the saipgtary. so we deal with water quality inners and some of the activities like wildlife disturbance issues that we address. >> one of the things that paul does so well his team is they also shine a light on these places. because if you think about it, before the marine sanctuary was established in '92, to learn about a lot of this stuff you had to be a scuba diver or a marine scientist. so when we had david packard write the $50 million check in 1984 to open the aquarium and when we had the marine sanctuary and then the sanctuary visitors' center that opened in santa cruz, you're bringing this place to millions of people. you're inspiring them to see what's underneath the ocean. >> and hopefully you're raising awareness to protect it. >> that's the point. most people have not seen a kelp forest. they wouldn't unless you had these places. >> nowadays robots can go down, right snf absolutely. >> paul, i wanted to ask you about another topic as well. the algae blooms. you're seeing a huge algae bloom off the coast. they're not unusual, but it
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seems like this year it was unusual. several algae blooms have merged so we have this huge blob now. what's causing it, and what kind of dangers does it present? >> emily can speak better to this, but essentially the water right now in the northern pacific ocean is the warmest that it's ever been. there's an area actually called the blob. we don't think it's necessarily related to climate change or el nino. el nino warm waters are further south off the coast of peru on the equator. that's likely going to bring a lot of rain this winter, we hope. but the warmer waters are six, seven degrees fahrenheit warmer than the historic norm, and that is driving a lot of this. some of it has to do with changing in wind patterns affecting the upwelling like emily mentioned. but in terms of how bad is it, what does it mean, i'll defer to you. >> so these algae blooms have been particularly dramatic since about may of this year, but the blob has been in existence for almost two years now.
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certainly in bodega bay we've seen kops consequences thaf in our local ecosystem. we're seeing it in the prankton in the surface ocean. >> why is that? do they produce a toxin? i read it can cause amnesia, the smaller shell fish consume it and birds consume the shell fish and it causes amnesia. >> i don't know particularly about amnesia, but these giant algae blooms often contain types of algae that produce toxins, and these algae are consumed by filter feeders like mussels, for example, that are then consumed by animals like sea lions. and this toxin is transferred up the food chain into marine mammals, and we have been seeing a lot of strandings of marine mammals this year because of this large algae bloom. in fact, research others at the monlt ray bay aquarium institute has found such high toxins in the water. it's almost unprecedented.
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>> other than things we talked about, what do you see as emerging threats to the ocean especially here off the coast of california? >> well, i think as more attention is drawn to this sarin gatety of the sea, we're going to see so many people want to come here and experience it firsthand. you look at a place like florida keys where it's almost loved to death, their problem is very differently. they're having a lot of human use in the marine environment. i think we'll see and then be challenged by more issues around wildlife disturbance. we want people to come and enjoy wildlife. we don't want them to be hara harassed. i think water quality will continue to be a big one. we're dealing now with desal. we could do a whole show on just desal. but that has potentially huge impacts if you do open ocean intake with all the entrainment and entrapment of the organisms to bring it in to be desal nated. we're working with communities to do a better job of designing if facilities to be less impactful. but as california dries up, the demand on the ocean for that water is going to increase. >> speaking of california drying
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up, we've heard some relief may be coming, right, in the form of el nino. we've been reading a lot about that. what does that mean, paul rogers, for california? >> california is, as we all know, in the fourth year of the worst drought ever recorded in its history back to statehood. el ninos normally don't mean any higher percentage chance for rainfall, but the stronger they are -- by that i mean the warmer the water is compared to history -- the better chances you have. so we're already in a strong el nino where the water is basically 1.5 degrees centigrade higher than the historic average. it's going maybe to be the warmest of all time in the next month or two. since 1950, we've had five examples where the water has been that warm. four of the five we've had much wetter than normal years in northern california. fingers crossed. >> thank you all very much. paul michelle from the monterey bay national marine sanctuary, emily from uc davis and paul
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rogers. thank you all very much. >> pleasure having all of you. and you can watch next monday through wednesday night, the show airing live from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. right here on kqed. for more on the show and our news coverage, go to i'm thuy vu. >> i'm scott shafer. thanks for joining us.
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